Interview by LaTina Emerson
Khayla McClinton, a master’s student in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, spent her summer at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub in San Francisco, participating in projects related to data science, biomedical research and biomedical engineering. She shares some highlights from her summer research experience.
Can you provide some brief information about Chan Zuckerberg Biohub?
Chan Zuckerberg Biohub is a nonprofit research center focused on disease cures, prevention and management.
How long was your internship?
Why did you want to do an internship at Chan Zuckerberg Biohub?
I wanted to do my internship here because they are a company that is actually making strides in the public health/biomedical and biotechnology development world. They collaborate with teams all over the world, helping with disease outbreaks and major public health issues. The company itself is highly interdisciplinary, not focusing on strictly one area. Their goal is to get rid of diseases, and they are doing that. I wanted to see what it was like to be in a setting where disease eradication was being looked at from every angle, not just clinical.
Can you describe your internship duties? What types of experiences did you have?
I analyzed bacterial species, such as Rickettsia, for the loss of biosynthetic pathways in their evolution towards pathogenesis, or the development of disease. I pulled data (genome size, related bacteria, phylogentic tree, etc.) from databases for bacterial information that are used internationally, such as Pathosystems Resource Integration Center and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes, to use in R Studio, which is open-source software for data science. Using this software, I analyzed data, identified and ranked bacterial metabolic pathways and annotated key enzymes involved.
I worked with the team developing a novel point-of-care serology (blood serum) assay, or test. I learned how to perform the assay and developed the standard operating procedure for the assay, which will be used in low resource settings for training community healthcare workers. The standard operating procedure for the assay is a description of how to prepare and perform the test, how to collect the blood, how to process samples, how to use the device, how to run the test and what biohazard methods need to be in place. I had to consider the location, cost and frequency and find, locate and test various materials to determine which are best for use. The assay will be used overseas when the project launches. I performed the assay and assisted with experiments that test assay parameters, involving variables such as time and temperature, to compare and identify optimal performance range.
I also assisted the biomedical engineering team with basic device testing and adaptions. My internship was highly interdisciplinary, giving me the chance to use my public health knowledge, gain a deeper understanding of data science and be able to understand what should be considered and included in the bioengineering team’s efforts to develop a device.
How did you secure this internship?
I applied online and then I interviewed with the leads of my team.
What did you learn from this internship experience?
I was able to see firsthand how all of these different areas of science work together to pull off projects and implement necessary care in the world. I learned how the program in R Studio, which I am still learning, is not as easy as you might think. I also learned how to develop an assay. I’ve read a bunch of standard operating procedures for assays throughout my career, but being the one who must ask the challenging questions and consider all errors that could occur was a necessary challenge. I also learned a bit about what questions to ask when building a device and what I need to be able to tell the engineers I want on an extremely specific level, and that requires a lot of repetitive testing, research and conversations. I learned how organizations around the world work together to complete projects on a different level. This makes me want to work for an organization where I have access to international projects that involve lab and field work. Combining public health field work, lab testing and data science and getting to have a bird’s-eye view of how it is all applied to bioengineering gives a distinctive look on biotechnology and how I can contribute.
Will this internship experience help you with your future career goals?
Most definitely. The internship really opened my eyes to more career paths that I could take, but also brought me closer to the idea that I could do more than one thing at a time. I loved working with a team that had so much variety and was working on the same goal. Everyone did more than one thing or had more than one skill or more than one knowledge background. Being in a role where I was able to use all of my skills, as well as learn and develop new ones, brought out a lot of passion that I don’t think I’ve gotten to feel or express as much as I wanted to before. This experience really made me feel like I was contributing. I love research in all aspects, and being able to see it from the bench to the field in all facets (public health, wet lab, data science, bioengineering and international communications) was a wonderful experience.
Do you feel that your academic and research experience at the Institute for Biomedical Sciences (IBMS) helped you get selected for this opportunity?
I do think my experience in the IBMS master’s program has helped me a lot, especially working in Dr. Sang-Moo Kang’s lab and being able to take courses that keep me well-rounded in the field, from law to business to science.